Millennials and boomers mock each other in similar ways.
Watching arguments between these two generations is kind of like watching Instagram influencers flock to Chernobyl —they’re both rife with cancer. All this has happened before, and all this will happen again. From Hesiod’s “Ages of Man” and the deterioration seen there to the Biblical Fall of Man, the notion of finding other people to blame for worldly problems is a notion deeply embedded in human nature: “I’m not going to go to bed at a reasonable hour”, I often tell myself, “I’ll be tired tomorrow, but you know what? Tomorrow’s problems will be dealt with by tomorrow’s me.” Since rarely any individual, let alone an entire generation, is willing to accept responsibility for their circumstances, it is no surprise that there is enmity between the baby boomer generation and younger generations.
“OK, boomer,” I hear you saying, “quit trying to defend the generation which was given everything, and has spent their time making sure that those who come after will have nothing.” Yeah, yeah, we’re a power in decline and this nation will never see as much opportunity as it did in past generations. Blaming anyone who bought a McMansion is not going to fix that. Conversely, blaming “kids these days” for spending too much on “avocado toast” and not being able to achieve homeownership is not going to fix the situation, either.
The Millennial generation is projected to be the first that makes less than their parents did (adjusted for inflation, of course) as well as the first generation with a lower life expectancy than the preceding generation. Not only this, but current global approval of U.S. leadership is now at 30 percent, as compared to China’s 31 percent. How is it even possible to screw up so bad that people would rather be in bed with China — a neo-colonialist power that openly operates internment camps? These are real problems which demand real solutions; discussion of these solutions is hindered by the obstinate ravings of two generations looking for a scapegoat for all of their problems.
The inevitable friction between generations has only been exacerbated by the existence of the internet, which has been both a blessing and a curse. It has created an environment where the sum of all information available to humanity can be accessed by anyone at any time. Because of the Internet, I know that the global population is probably going to peak circa 2100 and then it will gradually atrophy for the foreseeable future; that’s very useful information, I’d say. Most people, however, don’t use the internet just for information gathering — most people use the internet to argue with 14-year-olds in Russia about whether or not Minecraft will ever get a cave update, or something similarly fulfilling.
Even when people do use this incredible tool to inform themselves, they don’t do so in an objective and dispassionate way, they use the internet to find echo chambers that they deem to be to their liking. This has created an environment where Boomers propagate minion memes amongst themselves about how “technology bad,” and Millennials and Gen Z are now responding in kind with a slew of “OK boomer.” In lieu of generations using the wealth of knowledge at their fingertips and working towards a solution for some of the aforementioned problems, we have a retiring generation of ignoramuses, most of whom probably don’t know what an IP address is, and a rising generation of petulant self-proclaimed victims, most of whom are every bit as short-sighted and self-centered as the boomers they despise.
I do not mean to insult either generation by calling them stupid, because all humans would act the same way in either position. Human nature is to favor ideas and plans which benefit oneself, which is why lower-income people are almost always fiscally liberal whereas the wealthy are almost always fiscally conservative. In fact, the Boomer generation was once in almost the exact situation in which millennials now find themselves.
In the midst of counterculture, activist Jack Weinberg is quoted as saying, “Never trust anyone over 30,” which is essentially a less meme-able version of “OK boomer.” When it was convenient for boomers to mistrust authority, they were distrustful of authority. Now that shaking their fists at them darn kids is more convenient for the generation’s collective ego, that’s the stance they’ve taken, and in 30 years or so that’s the stance that millennials will take.
Here’s a quote which perfectly illustrates this generational cycle, from The Simpsons, of all places: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now, what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you.”
These generations resemble each other more than either one of them is willing to admit, and the more extreme their enmity, the more I think that horseshoe theory is, in many ways, an accurate model of political discourse.
Horseshoe theory, in a nutshell, states that the farther right you go, and the farther left you go, the more these two ideologies resemble each other. Think back to when you had to read Animal Farm in eighth grade, and the pigs and humans were blurred so that nobody could tell which was which.Although I wouldn’t entirely subscribe to this, it seems that these two generations, even though they are ideological opposites, resemble each other behaviorally. Neither generation has a visibly substantial population willing to engage in civil discourse, instead participating in an increasingly toxic “blame war” where they invent ways to pin all of their problems on other people. They both use humor as a means of propagating their opinions; “Boomer comics” and modern memes are fundamentally the same, both being bite-sized humorous bits of content predominantly spread online in the modern era. Worst of all, they both participate in willful ignorance.
Unless you’re an antivaxxer or a Kardashian, you probably have something worthwhile to say, and your perspective is probably worth considering. However, as evidenced by the dismissive and obstinate language used to address the opposing generation and by the emphasis on generational echo chambers, this is not a notion which has seen its due consideration in either of these cultures.
I’d like to conclude with a modicum of John F. Kennedy’s wisdom: “Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”